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October 14th 2018
Published: October 14th 2018
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With a later than usual departure we were finally able to rest a little before having breakfast at the rooftop of Hotel Polo Cucso. The breakfast here was again pretty skimpy with cheese, cold-cuts, yogurts and lots of breads. I finally asked if I could have eggs for breakfast. Apparently that was an option all along but there had been no mention of it. I put in my order and received a plate of scrambled eggs but still no avocado to be seen. I asked the head server and he promised to find me some by the time I returned from Machu Picchu.

After breakfast we went back to the room to pack. I collected our dirty laundry to drop at the front desk. I had asked the night before if there was a cheaper option than the $2 to 4 US dollar per piece for washing and drying our clothes (including socks and underwear!). A kind gentleman said yes there was a cheaper option but that laundry service wouldn’t be open before our bus came. He told me to give him our laundry and he would take it personally saving us at least 20 or more US dollars and many confusing steps in trying to locate said laundry in person! We brought our suitcases to the lobby for collection and storage, slung our overnight belongings for Machu Picchu over our shoulders and we were ready to go.

Our 10 AM bus picked us up a little early (thankfully we were packed and ready to go) and we were on our way through the Sacred Valley to pick up our train in Ollantaytambo. We were quickly gridlocked in heavy Cusco traffic, once again stopping the bus momentarily in front of the Orellana Pumqchupan fountain near our hotel (this seems to be a consistent place of congestion). But it wasn’t long before we were moving again to collect the rest of our group on our journey north through the Sacred Valley.

Our bus, traveling through open farmland, occasionally passed strings of small one story connected independent storefronts indicating a kind of settlement. Long braided women with colorful red and black hats sat huddled in front of stores with their wares on the ground before them. I was fascinated by how remote these areas seemed to me and yet the little shops must get business from somewhere. We were headed to Yanahuara Village, a rural district between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Franco was eager to share a strawberry corn beer experience with us. We stopped at a quaint little roadside bar in the outskirts of Yanahuara Village that was known for their chicha, a beer made from fermented corn with a little strawberry juice yielding a 2%!a(MISSING)lcohol beverage that is the first such drink that young people are introduced to. The sign at the entrance read: We serve Frutillada, Chicha, Cerveza Cusquena. We gathered at a long table in front of a wall of hanging corn inside the adobe building while Franco explained the manufacture of his boyhood beer. In an adjacent room with an open doorway leading to the banos we found guinea pigs scurrying about on a dirt floor. Likely, once fattened, these cute guys will make their way to the dinner table served as cuy, a Peruvian staple. As we were leaving I pointed to three skulls on a bench covered with a tapestry. Franco said they were there for good luck and protection. Doubtful that went for the guinea pigs.

At 12:30 PM our bus pulled into the now familiar town square facing the steep terraces at Ollantaytambo to meet our 12:50 PM train to Aguas Calientes. With passports in hand we were given our tickets with our assigned seats and shown to the appropriate cars. Franco told us that he and Elias would be riding in the “local” car where, for 2 1/2 hours, they and the other local travelers, who ride the train in the afternoon because it’s cheaper, would stand squished together hanging onto handles in the ceiling similar to riding in a subway. For two 1/2 hours!

I really didn’t know what to expect about our train ride to Aguas Calientes. Some had warned that it would be dangerous. Some had said it would make me sick from the uneven tracks. Others said it was like a cattle car. Well they were all wrong. The Peru Rail Expedition Train was everything but that. With private seating at tables, our glass domed car was comfortable offering spectacular views all the way along the Urubamba River, one of many tributaries to the mighty Amazon River.

And it was perfectly safe. With windows at our sides and windows in the ceiling we were able to view much of the scenery as we chugged through the Urubamba Gorge. I did notice a bit of a jiggle when trying to negotiate the bano but other than that I was perfectly fine.

Dave and I were fortunate to be on the river side of the train but the openness of the train car afforded a good look out both sides. Looking out the train window gave me a perfect opportunity to observe the lifestyle of the people who live here. We passed people harvesting corn on their farms, horses and cattle grazing in the fields and I even watched a Quechua woman carrying bags as she walked along the train tracks. On occasion the train would stop to wait for another to pass. We passed a bridge over the river and a sign pointing to the Inca Trail. I got excited. As we got closer to Aguas Calientes we saw the brown, dried up mountains begin to turn green and I could identify more tropical foliage and flowers found in the rain forest. We were getting close!

Our train pulled into Aguas Calientes around 2:30 PM and although we were no longer at 11,000 plus feet, we were still up there (around 7,500’) for the old flatlanders that we were. Dave and I followed our group, huffing and puffing up hills, over a bridge, up steps, and through markets to the Inti Punku Hotel in Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Town. We had very little luggage, most of us just carried a small backpack with enough essentials to get us through the night and the long adventure that awaited us. We found our room on the 9th floor facing the train station. The train station? You mean we could have gotten off here and saved the climb?

We reconvened in the hotel lobby and began our trek back down in the direction we had come from to the Hot Springs Machu Picchu Restaurant, where Elias assured me was the most reasonable and reliably safe restaurant where we could eat without fear of getting sick. Our group of 22, sat at a very long table, filling the entire restaurant. After some hemming and hawing I decided to try the Aguaymanto Trout, a lovely grilled loin served with goldenberry sauce, steamed broccoli, carrots and green beans and Andean potatoes. Dave chose the Pineapple Chicken with the same vegetables and potato puree. The first real meal we had in days. And it was delicious! An Andean man played the melodic music of Peru on his guitar and zampona flute outside the restaurant (the restaurant was open to the street). While waiting for our meal (it took forever, I wondered where the kitchen was) I went out to the street to take a video of his music intending to buy a CD later but by the time we left he had disappeared.

What goes down must go back up? At least to get back to our hotel. Aguas Calientes is much bigger than I expected. Composed almost entirely of markets, restaurants and hotels, with two main walkways divided by a small, now dry, gorge connected by bridges, the busy thoroughfares are populated by Andean people serving the tourists looking for the Machu Picchu experience. I was looking for the markets. There was one large market congested with numerous colorful stalls under corrugated steel roofs conveniently located by our hotel. I quickly cased the joint to make my purchases later but first I needed to find the apothecaries that might sell Depends.

In my research of Machu Picchu I had read that it was possible to leave the park one time and return on the same ticket, but Franco announced that had changed. Once inside the park, if you left, you could never return. And there were no banos inside the park. And the park was enormous. And we would be at altitude, drinking water, inside the park for over 5 hours. I needed a safety net. I needed Depends. Several women had confided to me on our way to Aguas Calientes that they had brought Depends for this very reason. But they had none to share. So off I went in search of a safety measure to get me through the next adventure. I went to several apothecaries and in my sign language form of Spanish, which was comical in itself, none had even heard of Depends. So in a desperate last ditch measure I bought a diaper. (I wear a size medium Pampers in case anyone is wondering) and brought it back to the hotel room for a trial fit. It would have to do.

Thus protected for tomorrow’s adventure I returned to the markets to do some financial damage. I managed to find a nice shirt for Dave and finally located the long sought after Christmas ornaments I wanted to bring all the grandchildren. And the ornaments would fit in my backpack! Done. One more stop for water to fill the camelback and I was ready to retire for a good night’s rest before our 4 AM breakfast downstairs. Except there were trains. With whistles. Sigh.


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